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Chariots of Suburban Fire

My son started middle school last September, and with it came a whole new selection of extracurricular activities to choose from.

I was hoping he’d pick band as an option, being that I’m a sax player from way back.

But this wasn’t the case.

It’s weird, this stage as a parent.

I’ve been demoted from being his favorite person in the whole world to someone who sits on the periphery of his life and supplies him with meals.

As a result, I developed a deep-seated need to reconnect and at the start of grade seven, became obsessed with the idea of becoming more involved with the school.

I did a stint with the Parents Association, donated baked goods for a local fundraiser, and even sorted bottles for soccer. But none of it satisfied me. I knew I had to do something big in order to reinstate myself as a hero in my son’s eyes.

And then it came to me: Cross Country Track. I ran like the wind back in the day and knew this would be the perfect way to recapture a little of the glory.

I was going to be a cross-country track and field parent coach!

On my first morning, I outfitted myself accordingly: Nike jacket and matching nylon pants, new shoes, sweatband, the works. First impressions, after all, are vital and there was no way I was going to let on to the other parents that I hadn’t so much as broken a sweat since sometime around 1993.

The gym wasn’t open when we first arrived, and as soon as I parked the car, my son jumped out and fled.

God forbid someone make the association of him with me.

He ran over to join a cluster of kids and I was left alone to face a smaller group: The Parents.

I didn’t know people in their forties could look that fabulous. That buff. All so casually confident in their faded sweatshirts and well-worn running shoes.

I tried to muffle the sound of my nylon pants as I made way toward them.


Introductions were made and I quickly identified the leader of the pack. A beautiful blonde woman about my age with the best legs I have ever seen in person in my life. She was an aerobics instructor by trade, and had just arrived home after running a marathon in Vancouver.

It was she who would lead us in our pre-running warm up.

The kids all filed into the gym and I stood in the back.

Suddenly music filled the air and the perky blonde woman began to move.

I wanted to be perky, too.

I wanted to show all of these athletic adults that I was one of them.

That I was the sort to get out of bed and come to a gym on a Monday morning to aerobicize, that I am ...

I noticed that it was getting hot in all that nylon.

By the time we finished the warm up, I was very, very warm—I removed the Nike jacket and surreptitiously wiped the sweat beading off my face.

And then it came time to run.

The kids were broken into three groups: The fast runners would go with Marathon Mom on a long, mostly up-hill, stint through the woods. The medium speed kids would go on a shorter run, and the slower kids would go to the track.

Clue one should have been that not even the most athletic looking of the rest of the parents opted to go with the fast group.

But when Marathon Mom looked toward me and asked if I would accompany her kids, I was so flattered that she didn’t think I was going to have a heart attack, I said, “Sure!”

Big mistake.

Grade seven boys like to start runs fast. Very fast.

I got halfway up the first hill, trailing way, way behind the pack, my nylon pants now hermetically sealed to my upper thighs, when I realized there was no way I was going to be able to do this.

Thankfully, one of the other mothers took pity on me and offered to trade me groups.

And I suddenly found myself in kinder, gentler company comprised of mostly grade four girls, a grade seven with asthma, and a little guy who tried really hard.

We ran together back to the school, and I felt wonderful the rest of the day. I had found my cross country niche:

“Give me your eight year olds, your out-of-shape, your asthmatics, and slow runners. Give me your chess clubbers, the chubby girl in the corner, and the boy who runs at the back of the pack but keeps trying. Give me your shy, your awkward, the kids who feel out of place, and verily, let them run with me.”

These would be my people, and the next morning out, I was going to REPRESENT.

I think my son was secretly relieved. He would continue to run with the grade seven boys, while his embarrassing mother carried on with the slower group.

But it wasn’t to be.

You know, because I’m me.

I have that unique ability to make a complete and utter spectacle of myself in front of large groups of people.

Sometimes it shows up at weddings when I’m getting my groove on to “I Will Survive.”

Other times, it’s when I feel the compulsion to make a speech and initiate some form of group hugging.

But on this day, it manifested itself at cross country.

Bringing up the rear on a two-kilometer run, I hit a patch of gravel.

One minute we were chugging along at a good pace and the next, I found myself airborne.

Right in front of the high school while the school bus was unloading those most terrifying and unpredictable citizens: TEENS.

I flew through the air and landed face and hands first in a pile of gravel—recreating a slide into home base, and giving myself road rash from forehead to knee caps.

My Nike pants were ruined.

I looked up to what seemed to be about a hundred sets of adult, teenage, and eight year old eyes upon me and knew I had to get up.

So I did. I got up, put my bleeding hands in front of me, and continued the run.

If this had been music video, Garth Brooks would have been singing “Standing Outside the Fire.”

The kids all cheered, however, and everyone ran with me the rest of the way back.

That was cool.

But the best part came after school.

I picked my son up and the first thing he said to me was, “I heard you really wiped out.”

Apparently I was the talk of the town.

I asked him if he was embarrassed and he said, “No, I think it’s hilarious.”

Nice kid.

But he asked me this afternoon if my knee was going to be healed enough to come to track again on Tuesday.

Thomas Alva Edison once said:

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

When life’s road gets bumpy and we hit a patch of gravel, we each have the power the get back up, dust ourselves off, and continue running.

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